Crunch time here at AI. We’re launching many, many websites at the same time. (Why the hell am I writing this? I should be debugging something…).
Let me be clear: I don’t like crunch times, and I think the first step is prevention: try not to have to much stuff happen at the same time, have reasonable deadlines, properly staffed projects etc. However the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang aglay, and sometimes crunches are inevitable.
There is an art to surviving crunch times. If one isn’t careful one can easily burn out. Burn out is hard to recover from, and can lead to various problems down the road, including health and psychological issues, as well as simply not being very productive afterwards.
So how to survive a crunch?
Its a marathon, not a sprint. Ignoring the problem up until the last minute and then trying to work around the clock is a recipe for disaster. Increase the hours gradually weeks ahead of the deadline, so you can get enough through the pipe that the end isn’t totally out of control. Figure out the number of hours a day you can sustain. For me I know I can do about 12 hour days for weeks as long as I get enough sleep. However, if I go over that number, or if I can’t get 8 hours of sleep, I’ll start to spiral down. And make mistakes.
Take Care of Yourself
Get enough sleep. Drink liquids. Eat well. Do all the things that you’re already supposed to do to take care of your body. You need it to function in order to think. There is working hard, and then there is just messing yourself up. If you work 24 hours in a row then you will not be getting anything done the next day. Make sure you’re not just stealing time from yourself.
Measure Your Progress
Make sure you have a way to track what you’re accomplishing, and to be able to track what needs to be done. This means that someone needs to pause momentarily to maintain a list of things to do: checking off items that have been accomplished, adding items that are outstanding and so forth. This is essential for two reasons – first, it allows everyone to get a real sense of how much work is left to do. Without that there’s usually a lot of unfocussed anxiety surrounding the project. The second reason is it provides a sense of accomplishment when people see how much work they’ve already done. This is an important part of morale in the project.
Clear Your Mind
When you go home at night you need to get the project out of your head. This allows you to rest properly and recuperate. Find something very antithetical to the nature of the project – something that exercises some other part of your brain. For computer-bound information workers, this could be something really physical, or something otherwise low tech. I like to cook and play guitar. When I don’t do this, I inevitable wind up having dreams about whatever I’m working on. I hate that.
Ah, so much psychology. Give yourself little rewards as you go through the crunch period, for being a good little worker bee. “If I work until 9 pm again then I get to have a beer when I get home.” Um, look at the second point, Take Care of Yourself again, though.
Hard Stuff When You’re Fresh, Easy Stuff When You’re Burnt
During the course of the crunch time, you’ll have moments when you’re pretty awake and sharp and moments when you’re not so awake and sharp. You need to be doing the right kind of work in both areas. The rule here is easy: do the hard stuff when you’re sharp, and the easy stuff when you’re dopey. This is the best way to avoid making bad mistakes and wrecking stuff when you’re too far gone for anything more complicated than operating a dessert spoon.
Thats it for now – please feel free to add your own tips for surviving crunch times. Remember – if you’re crunching all the time then something is seriously wrong (bad management, not enough resources etc), but occasional crunches happen and can be handled well if you’re careful.